Every year, three groups from the University of Mary Washington go to three areas of the southeast United States during their spring break to work with Habitat for Humanity. This year the three groups went to Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. My group of twelve students and two staff went to Apopka, Florida to work with Habitat for Humanity of Seminole County and Greater Apopka.
We left on Sunday early in the morning and drove for about 14 or 15 hours from Fredericksburg, VA to Gotha, FL. We got there fairly late at night and pulled up into a camp cabin that we were staying in only for Sunday night. The directions for it were a little weird. Once we got off the paved road, the directions said “go past the tree and red water tank.” We all looked at the space between said tree and water tank and thought “uhh, is this 11 passenger van going to fit?” We fit… barely. As we pulled into the camp, the people in our van had been talking about horror movies because the roads we had just been on were very creepy and deserted. The cabin we were staying in, especially in the dark, looked like a cabin out of a horror movie.
On Monday we woke up in what had looked like a creepy area at night but was a beautiful place in the light. Our cabin was right on a lake with a large wrap-around porch that we all ate breakfast on. Most of us went down and explored the area a bit, checking out the little dock and some of the hammocks hung up nearby. We intended on going to see the Peabody Ducks (basically a bunch of ducks walk through a hotel lobby to get to the hotel fountain) and then after that we would go hang out and walk around downtown Orlando. We found out that the ducks weren’t marching that day so, after a quick surprise visit from two friends on their way to the Florida Keys, we ended up packing lunches and going to Disney Springs (formally known as Downtown Disney).
I was more excited to go to Disney Springs than the ducks and downtown Orlando. It rained for a few minutes when we first got there so we ran into the huge Disney store to escape the rain and looked at all sorts of Disney stuff. I looked at some of the Mickey ears and contemplated buying one of the Class of 2017 graduation ears. My friends and I looked at some shirts and mugs. One of my friends bought a teacup like Chip from Beauty and the Beast. Then we went to the Lego store and took pictures with the giant Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Hulk Lego statues like we did when we went to Disney Springs on our first ASB trip two years ago. Mostly we just walked around and went in and out of stores, wishing we could afford the things we saw (not that we had any space to pack additional items anyways). After only two hours we had to meet back at our vans but it was a nice little visit to Disney, even if it wasn’t one of the big theme parks.
After we got back from Disney, we repacked the vans to drive to our main camp for the week. We stayed at Kelly Park in Apopka, FL. Two of the Habitat for Humanity of Seminole County and Greater Apopka workers, Cydney and Brit, met us there with pizza and talked to us about Seminole-Apopka Habitat and relevant information for our week there. It was also AmeriCorps Week and Cydney is an AmeriCorps member so she told us about her experience and AmeriCorps as well. After they left, we finished eating and began to explore Kelly Park. We went on a bunch of the trails, trying to find the natural springs we were told about. After nearly an hour of exploring, we didn’t find the springs we were looking for and it was getting dark so we headed back to our building.
On Tuesday, we had our first work day. We had to wake up before 6:30 so that we could leave by 7am to get to the site by 8am and be early for our first day. We were going to work on the Magnolia Project, a group of four townhouses. We were set to work on rafters and putting up walls. We were greeted by the four men of the worksite: Rowland, Kenny, Mike and Andy. Rowland went over the plans for the week, gave us a tour of one of the townhouses so we could visualize the completed versions of the townhouses, and went over safety (he’s missing half of a finger due to a table saw accident). We split off into teams and I went with two people I didn’t know very well. Alec, Sebrine and I worked on the rafters, nailing down “rat runs” across the length of all four townhouses. We used both hammers and nail guns to get the beams in place. We made a pretty good trio and were an efficient team. One of the future homeowners who was working with us that day bought us all pizza for lunch which was super nice of her (thanks, Lisa!). When we left for the day, most of the group wanted to go to the natural springs we had tried to find the night before. I decided to stay at our camp and relax alone while nearly everyone else went to the springs. That day happened to be IHOP’s Free Pancake Day so we headed out to IHOP for dinner but when we got there, there was a long wait. We voted to go somewhere else and drove over to Panera for dinner instead. We made a SnapChat group during dinner that is still going pretty strong and then headed home. When we got back to camp, we did our nightly Highs and Lows (best and not-so-best parts of the day) and decided to watch Guardians of the Galaxy.
On Wednesday, we went back to the Magnolia Project and returned to our groups from the day before. Alec, Sebrine and I finished the rafters so we joined another group to do walls. One of our trip leaders, Cait, was in that team and had brought wireless speakers to play music. She took requests so we had quite an array of songs, although the whole UMW group seemed to really like the opening song from Moana so that was played a lot this trip. Cait and I bonded over a wall that measured out correctly but just wasn’t fitting like it should have. We tried a lot but the wood was just weirdly curved or something. We put up a couple walls before we called it a day. It was my turn to make dinner that night with about half of our group. One of my best friends and I were in charge of making mac and cheese which turned out to be a bit of a struggle with four large boxes of mac and cheese in one pot and no strainer but we managed. Stirring that much mac and cheese requires about as much arm strength as rowing down a river. After dinner a bunch of us played Scattegories. We quickly learned it’s helpful to have cell service to check on people’s answers but we had to do without since our camp had no cell service once you entered the building.
Thursday was our last day at the Magnolia Project. After first, most of the group who had worked on the walls were given another project to work on for the closets in the first townhouse. Josh and I got pulled for another project where we had to disassemble groupings of wooden boards. It was pretty simple process but it was also a lot of thinking about angles and putting pressure on the right area. When we stopped for lunch, our site was told that we were leaving right after lunch. We had done so much work in our two and a half days that we actually over-achieved what Seminole-Apopka Habitat had intended on our group doing. They were concerned that there wouldn’t be enough for the group coming the next week to do. We took some group pictures at the site and with Rowland, Kenny, Mike and Andy as well as each other. As we drove home, we decided to go to Wekiwa Springs and stop for ice cream. We quickly went home and changed into our suits and grabbed some money. We stopped at a place called Jeremiah’s Italian Ice and got some really good ice cream and Italian ice. Wekiwa Springs was super pretty, but also a little cold. I had brought an inner tube so I sat on it to avoid really being in the cold water. Someone had brought a beach ball so we were playing a combination of volleyball and “Keep It Up” with me floating around the middle. I got flipped out of my tube or pushed upstream a couple times by various people in the group. After a while we heard someone upstream say they saw a tail in the water. For several minutes no one could identify what the tail belonged to and several people got out. It turned out to be an otter which led one of our advisors (the biggest otter fan you’ll ever meet) scrambling for his phone and a closer look. We continued playing with the beach ball until most of us got tired of it and went to the edge of the water or our towels to dry off. We left as the sun began to set.
Friday was our ReStore day which we knew would be a short day because we were only supposed to work from 9am-noon. ReStores are basically Habitat’s versions of Goodwill. We split into two teams and my group went to pull a bunch of stuff, mostly old files, off of a set of shelves and then disassemble the large shelving unit. I grabbed a ladder and went up to the top shelf to start pulling down the boxes. Once we pulled a bunch of the boxes down, we rearranged the shed to better fit everything we were going to put into it. After we got everything off the shelves and into the shed or office, we pulled apart the shelving unit and then went over to another area of the ReStore to pull more things out of storage to put in outdoor units. By the time we got through everything and pulling it outside, it was time for lunch which was provided for us by several Habitat employees. Rowland, from the Magnolia Project, came out so we got to see him one last time. Several Habitat employees thanked us for our hard work this week and kept repeating what a great group we were. When we went home, several of us went to the springs in Camp Kelly one last time. After that, a bunch of us went to Starbucks for the free wifi to do homework. On the way to and from Starbucks, our van played the “Throwback CD” I had made for the long car ride on our travel days. We all loudly sung the lyrics to Whitney Houston, Backstreet Boys and Avril Lavigne and it’s one of my favorite memories from the trip. Sometimes the littlest, simplest things are the best. After Starbucks, we went home and one of our advisors made us a really good pasta dinner.
Cydney and Brit from Seminole-Apopka Habitat came by for our bonfire and brought us shirts from Habitat and s’more stuff to make over the fire. Bonfires have always been one of my favorite things so to have one with over a dozen of my friends was really fun. We did our paper plate awards and gave the three trip leaders wooden blocks from the worksite and nailbelts with signatures from everyone as senior gifts. We all did our Highs and Lows and talked about the trip. One of my best friends talked about how much she was going to miss all of us seniors next year and actually made several of us cry. We talked around the campfire until nearly midnight and it’s something that I’ll remember for a long time. Late night deep talks by the campfire can’t be beat by much.
On Saturday we were finally able to sleep in again. We packed lunches and drove off to New Smyrna Beach. It wasn’t a particularly hot day but it was still a good day to be at the beach. It rained for a few minutes a couple times but it was easily waited out on our towels. Once people were done in the ocean, most of us left to walk around the little downtown New Smyrna area. We went into a bunch of touristy shops. Several of us bought things. I bought new sunglass and a tank top that said New Smyrna Beach and had a cool elephant on it. We met back at the vans and went to dinner at a little restaurant before heading back to the camp. Once we got back, we all began to pack up everything because we were leaving early the next morning. Many of us scrambled to write our POGOs (Positive Gossip – aka end-of-trip notes) to each other before bed.
The next morning we woke up at 5am, which was really 4am thanks to Daylight Saving Time. We packed the car and rolled out of camp around 6am. Before we left, we were all given our POGO envelopes and I managed to read all of mine by streetlights (except for the one written in bright lime green which is hard to see even in normal lighting). POGOs are another one of my favorite things about ASB and I have saved all of mine from all three ASB trips. We drove until about 8pm, when we got back to Fredericksburg and stopped at CookOut for one last meal together. Then we drove around and dropped everyone off at their homes.
As a senior and third year ASBer, I had a lot of hope that this would be a good trip; I didn’t want to end my ASB memories on a bad trip. This trip definitely surpasses what I hoped for. I had such an amazing time and although I can’t fit all the memories onto this one page, I’m not sure there are enough words to explain my feelings for this trip. I was able to go there with six friends and return with twice that number. I felt like I made an impact on people’s lives and helped make a home for four well-deserving families. I felt more confident on the worksite than I had ever felt before and I definitely noticed an improvement on my hammering skills. If I could, I would do this trip all over again. In less than two months, I will graduate and almost certainly never get to go on another ASB trip which is sad, but I couldn’t have ended on a better trip. I don’t know what more I can say except thank you, ASB Florida 2017.